As if the wicked cold and seemingly never-ending snowfall aren’t enough, propane gas — that commodity used by many in rural areas to heat their homes — is in short supply this year.
That means it is a lot more costly, too.
“It has been the proverbial perfect storm,” said Allen Dunlap, manager of Linden’s Propane Inc. in LaGrange. “I’ve had customers call to say we’re ripping them off, but we try to tell them it’s not us. Supplies are having to travel so far that we’re actually losing money to reduce the impact of all this on our customers.
“This is the worst winter we’ve probably seen in 40 years.”
Linden’s has taken propane deliveries from as far away as Louisiana in recent weeks due to a propane gas shortage caused by a series of record-breaking cold spells.
“That’s three to four days turnaround on a truck,” Dunlap said. “And that’s one truck a day where we used to get two to three a day.”
Dunlap declined to discuss specific prices for customers, but said Linden has charged $2.50 a gallon for delivered propane in the past. It recently purchased out-of-state propane “that cost upwards of $3.50 to $4. One load was just under $5 a gallon,” he said.
In an emailed response to questions, Simon Bowman, AmeriGas manager for investor relations and treasury, declined to comment on local propane prices as they “change by the day.”
Current high prices are due to a combination of factors including a 60 percent jump in wholesale propane prices over a year ago, greater demand over the past month, and higher transportation costs due to supplies being brought from out-of-state.
Gov. John Kasich declared an energy emergency Jan. 18. That allows propane delivery drivers to be on the road longer in order to pick up and return out-of-state shipments of propane gas to Ohioans who depend on the fuel to heat their homes.
That order has since been extended to midnight Feb. 26 by the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio Transportation Department.
Officials in more than a dozen states including Michigan, Indiana, Pennsylvania and West Virginia took similar steps to try to ease the propane shortage for the bulk of the country’s 14 million-plus propane users, according to figures from the Propane Education & Research Council.
“It’s been pretty rough all around,” Dunlap said.
While the record-breaking cold has put millions of furnaces in overdrive in recent weeks, the propane used to heat them was in short supply in the Midwest as far back as October when the fuel was used at much higher-than-normal levels to dry corn, beets and other crops left drenched by a very wet harvest season.
“Supplies were not all that plentiful even then,” Dunlap said, adding major amounts of propane gas are typically produced in the spring and summer as a byproduct of natural gas processing and petroleum refining.
“Most refineries shut down during November, December and January to replace parts and valves and perform other work,” Dunlap said.
Dunlap serves as chairman of the board of the Ohio Propane Gas Association, a statewide organization of propane dealers.
“It’s not an easy fix,” Dunlap said.